Over 250,000 Canadians live with hepatitis C without knowing about it. So, liver specialists recommend all Canadians to get a blood test to see if they have the virus. Doctors recommend all the people born between 1945 and 1975 to get a test.
The authors from the Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver wrote that hepatitis C is a “highly burdensome public health problem in Canada, which actually causes more years of life lost than any other infectious disease in the country.”
They recommend screening and published their concerns today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
Medicine has evolved, so there is a cure for hepatitis C. However, the main issue is that the disease is slow and doesn’t present symptoms. It will only show signs when the liver is too damaged. The authors of the study stated that:
“Between 45 per cent and 70 per cent of Canadians infected with HCV are unaware they have the disease, which can lead to liver disease and death. It seems evident that the current policy of screening based on risk factors has not worked.”
The researchers found that a great majority of those infected with HCV in Canada were born between 1945 and 1975.
Dr. Hemant Shah is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and clinical director at the Toronto Centre for Liver Disease. He added that hepatitis C is under-recognized in Canada. He said that screening should also be related to age, just like other diseases. Treatment for hepatitis C can prevent cirrhosis, liver failure, and cancer.
Shah believes that the early baby boomers might have been infected in the 70s or 80s in the first epidemic of hepatitis C infection:
“They were presenting to hospitals with liver failure or liver cancer in their 40s or 50s.”
Unfortunately, Canada is facing a second epidemic because of the opioid crisis.
Co-author of the study, Dr. Jordan Feld said that screening according to age “is a simple way to approach screening, rather than trying to address risk factors, which people may not be aware of (or) may not be comfortable disclosing.”
Hepatitis C is spread from a person’s infected blood, which enters the bloodstream of another person. The risk factors are injection drugs, getting tattoos, piercings, pedicures or manicures. People can get infected if they had medical procedures with poorly sterilized equipment, had a blood transfusion or received blood products before July 1990. There is also a risk of infection if people share personal hygiene items with an infected person (razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers). Unsafe sex practices are also a risk factor.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.